old crone memory: toni

Lately, I’ve been dealing with my dad and his failing memory. It’s fairly certain that he’s suffering from alzheimer’s disease or some other sort of senile dementia. Whatever the cause, it’s clear he can no longer take care of himself and I’m facing the task of taking his life away from him for his own good. It will be a desperate and bitter battle, but in the end, he will lose. He will lose everything except maybe a few old memories–and at some point, even those old memories will be gone.

Which got me thinking…what must this be like? To not remember what just happened, only what has long since passed? So I plucked an old memory out of my past to filter through what I imagine would be a failing mind. I haven’t dug too deeply into this yet…for fear.
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I know I don’t remember. Don’t you tell me there’s something wrong with me. I know. I know. Leave me alone. These things you keep jabbing me with…you keep poking me with…leave me alone. They hurt. They make me angry and they hurt me so stop. Stop it. Just stop it.

anyway….

What does this matter? Why are you so concerned? I know what I’m doing. Just the other day my friend was here and we had a lovely time. What friend? My friend! You don’t know her. She’s been around longer than you have. We used to play out back together. I’d climb the tree while she was on the swings. She used to hang by her knees from the bar on the swing set. I made her fall once. She was hanging there and I took my arm and put it under her legs and brought it up, unhooking her at the knees and down she went right on the top of her head.

I got in trouble for that.

But she was okay. No harm done.

anyway…

I used to fly on the swings. Oh yes, I flew as high as the tree limbs. The wind I whipped up — pumping my legs harder and thrusting farther, flying higher and faster — it was all in the gut. You pump from the gut. And when I got up as high as the chains on the swing would let me — when they would start to buckle and jerk me down — I let go. Yes, I let go and really went flying in an arc so high and so wide … ahhh … it was beautiful. Oh my god, it churned my stomach over and under and off I went. And when I started going down, I crunched my body down over my legs, spread my arms out wide and landed flat-footed in the grass. It was so good. We used to mark where we landed to see who won and I always won. Nobody could fly higher or farther than me.

I don’t care what happened yesterday. Yesterday is nothing. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t pay attention because I don’t care. I have enough things going on from long before to bother about what you think is important yesterday. Yesterday was just that. No better than today. Nothing. I’m old. I’m so old that yesterday is just as stupid and boring as you are. This is my world. It is this chair. This room. That TV. There’s no life here; nothing of interest; nothing of consequence.

Life was before. Life was when I could fly.

One time, my friend, Toni was over and we were taking a break from riding our bikes. Toni was good. She was wiry and thin and her hair was thick and long and honey colored. Mine was just blonde and staight. Nothing much to speak of although grown-ups used to touch it a lot. But they didn’t know how good Toni’s hair was and how good she was at stuff even though her dad was dead. He was a pilot and flew into a mountain and died. Anyway, we were resting and leaning back against the wall outside my uncle’s house looking at the huge oak tree across the yard. Oh, that oak tree was old and so big and so beautiful. Everybody loved living in that tree. There were squirrels and birds and even an owl living there. All sorts of spiders and bugs crawled all through the furrows in the thick bark. The tree was so big around that if all five of us kids, including Toni, hugged the tree with our arms out and fingers touching, we couldn’t get all the way around it.

So Toni and I were sitting there, just looking at the tree and everyone living there and I told her a lie. I told her I can understand the language of animals. You see, my brain is all segmented into parts. Half of it is human and then there is a biggish part that is horse. After that I have dog and cat and squirrel and bird, all in there sliced into smaller and smaller parts. This is why I can understand what animals are saying. I can understand that squirrel over there, chattering away about how she doesn’t like it when the dogs are out. And the blue jays are happy to see me and are sorry for chasing me away the other day when I climbed the tree and tried to hold their babies. They promise not to chase me home again. Oh, I was scared that day! But it was all a big mistake, just like when Mom smacked me in the face for dropping all the eggs, one by one, on the kitchen floor. So it’s okay now and if I want I can go hold their babies anytime.

Toni doesn’t believe me! She’s so mean sometimes.

But it was a lie. I can’t really understand the animals, just like I can’t fly. I thought I could. I dreamed I could and it was so real. I was standing on the landing on our stairway. I started breathing in a really special way, huffing the air into my lungs and letting only some out and huffing more and more into my lungs until when I jumped up I could stay up. I kept breathing in my special way and the more I breathed the higher I went until I was bouncing off the ceiling. And then out the door and into the sky…huffing and puffing and higher and higher. But it was hard to stay up there. It was wonderful for awhile but then I started getting lower and lower and it was harder and harder and the next thing I know I’m bouncing off the ground, struggling to gulp more air into my chest so that I can get up there again. If I can only get up as high as the clouds then I won’t have to work so hard. I can glide and turn and tumble with ease because then the clouds will be holding me up.

Oh, it’s so beautiful and peaceful and happy up here. When I’m up here I really can talk to the birds and other animals. I am alone and wonderful and full of sky. Full of god. Full of me and all the animals are me.

But I had to tell Toni that I lied and then she was really angry with me. This is probably why we aren’t friends anymore. She moved away to another street and we weren’t friends much after that.

I saw her about 20 or 30 years ago and she was happy and had a little girl and her hair was still thick and full of honey.

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13 responses to “old crone memory: toni

  • Anonymous

    A beautiful and thought provoking piece of writing! Sorry about your dad! Many hugs.

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  • Anonymous

    Alzheimer’s and my mom
    Don’t know if I ever mentioned that my mom had Alzheimer’s. It was sort of strange when it happened. I was already married, and at a certain point, when I’d go visit my mom,I saw that she had notes written to herself on her desk in the room we called “the office.” She had bills sitting out with notes on them about the date she had paid them, and other things. She realized that she was forgetting things and started to write notes to remind herself.
    I saw all that …and never, never suspected that it was incipient Alzheimer’s.
    Then one day I got a call from her boyfriend (a strange name for a grown man, but they never got married, never lived together either, of course — that would have been too shocking to their mores). He said, “You’d better take your mom to the doctor and see what’s the matter with her. She’s starting to say strange things. She says stuff out of the blue that aren’t true. I think she’s starting to have small strokes, like your Aunt Annie. They need to give her something.”
    So I took my mom to her primary care physician. He administered a standard set of questions to screen for dementia. Mom pretty much passed the test, so he just concluded that perhaps she was just not eating properly or something and that I keep closer watch over her.
    Then Mom started to say even more bizarre things, things that were just not characteristic of her. So I took her back to the primary, who recommended a neurologist, who gave me the bad news.
    That was the beginning of 8 or 9 years of watching her decline. Her boyfriend and I kept her going in her house for another couple of years. We both stopped in often enough to make sure she was eating. He would take her out for lunch or dinner or else bring her meals and eat with her.
    Then she started to wander. I’d get calls from the neighbors at 11pm, 1 or 2 am. Then sometimes at night, she’d look into the room in the house that had been my bedroom, and of course I wasn’t there. So she’d call the police and say that her 16-year-old daughter had been abducted. So I’d get a call from the police — my phone number was stuck on the wall next to the phone.
    Eventually, I had to place her in an assisted living place. She tried to run away from the first one, and I had to go and get her. I realized that I had to place her in an assisted living place that had electronically controlled locking doors. I really felt like a criminal, like I was locking up my own mom. I felt really guilty. It took a while until I realized that it was the best thing for her. The staff and the activities distracted her and kept her occupied. She was a compulsive walker. The staff would get her to sit down just to eat. At that point, they staff said that the constant walking was actually keeping her physically fit.
    Then her Alzheimer’s progressed and she started to get seizures and to fall. So I had to move her to the Alzheimer’s wing of a nursing home. The place kind of stunk all the time, because the residents were always pooping themselves. But the staff tried their best to keep up and clean up, and they were all really very kind. Mom still walked compulsively, and you could see in her eyes how exhausted she was.
    She finally got the flu that was going around the ward and died of complications.
    My mom was a sweet person. Only toward the mid-point of her disease, when she was wandering and I knew I had to get her out of her house and into a facility, she was a bit combative. She wouldn’t stay with us. The old “sundowning” got to her, and late every afternoon, she’d insist she was going home, and she’d go right out and start walking in the street. Once she was in the facility, she adapted very well. Didn’t make it all that much easier to see her decline.
    You have a much harder job with your dad. He was mean to start with. I’ll hold you in the Light, as we crazy Quakers say.
    Love.
    –Barbara

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    • ossobucco

      Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
      Both of your stories scare the shit out of me.
      Alzheimer’s is terrible.
      Barbara, you made an interesting comment that has set off alarm bells in my head — that your mother started saying bizarre things.
      My husband’s mother has been saying increasingly odd things and is also obviously depressed. I believe that’s a symptom as well. We never thought about Alzheimer’s. I just thought she was being her usual bitchy self but she has been getting downright odd about things lately.
      Anyway, it’s never easy. Getting old SUCKS.

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      • lsaboe

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        yes, it is a terrible disease, and I think it’s one that is environmentally induced…our modern lifestyle does not foster a healthy winding down.
        And yes, definitely, bizarre behavior, paranoia, inappropriate comments are all possible signs that something is going wrong. There are treatements that help mitigate the decline, so it might behoove your husband to seek some medical intervention. Dad, I’m afraid, is too far gone for that. I tried to get him help early on, but he’s not a cooperative soul and his doctor was very uncooperative. So now, I’m forced to negotiate a much harder path to find him a safe place to end his days.
        getting old should NOT suck like this, that’s for sure.

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      • ossobucco

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        We’ve been estranged from N’s parents for some time (N. still speaks to his dad though) precisely because of his mother’s behaviour. It has been going on for years. She has done some insane shit over the years. I don’t think that stuff was onset Alzheimer’s but from what I’ve heard lately, it might be now.

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      • lsaboe

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        you know, it’s possible that a lot of the behavior is early onset. my aunt started exhibiting odd behavior in her mid 40’s before alzheimer’s hit the mainstream consciousness. i remember going to see her when i got back from new mexico and she took me on a “tour” of their house. never mind i used to play in the lot when they were excavating the site….but anyway…she kept saying, “these are MY carpets. i bought them with my money. not him! this is MY furniture. i paid for everything.”
        so, i’m standing there saying, “ok, jenny, ok. i get it. you paid for it and uncle pete’s a jerk.”
        after 5 or so years of this, people started telling my uncle that this was NOT a nervous breakdown. something was wrong and he needed to get her to a doctor. so early onset can happen really early!!
        jenny lasted 20 years after diagnosis, though the last 10 or so were as an invalid, capable of nothing more than loud moans and screeches.
        awful. just awful.

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      • ossobucco

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        Hmmm. Food for thought. It would certainly explain a lot.

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      • Anonymous

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        You should get your husband’s mom checked out. There are other things, like deficiencies of certain vitamins and other conditions that can look like incipient Alzheimer’s.
        I think they can diagnose Alzheimer’s with more certainty now. I believe they can actually see the “gunked up” synapses in the brain. They didn’t used to be able to see those until they did an autopsy.
        When my mom was diagnosed, it was mostly by process of elimination. They looked for signs of stroke, vitamin deficiencies, etc. When they couldn’t find anything else, they concluded it was Alzheimer’s.
        Anyway, I feel for you and your m-in-l. It’s really tough. Tough being the one declining and tough being one taking care of the one in decline.
        –Barbara

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      • ossobucco

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        Thanks.
        I’ll certainly suggest it to my sister-in-law.
        I don’t have to worry about taking care of my MIL. She hates my guts and would be horrified by the whole idea!

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    • lsaboe

      Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
      *sigh*
      I’m so sorry about your mom (and no, I don’t think I was aware of the circumstances before—unless I forgot—ack!). I am glad that she adapted well to her last “home.” That’s all I can hope for where my dad is concerned…that he managed to adapt. Right now he’s nagging me to find him a gas can so he can put gas in his car and go visit people.
      I will not be gassing up his car. The registration and inspection stickers are out of date and if he doesn’t get in a wreck, he’ll certainly find himself lost.
      bleh

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      • Anonymous

        Re: Alzheimer’s and my mom
        Hugs for you as you take care of your dad.
        No, he certainly shouldn’t be driving!! (of course, he’s driving you crazy :-))
        Thinking of you.
        –Barbara

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